Tuesday, August 21, 2018

No Harp for My Angel

Carter Brown (real name: Alan Yates) was a British author living in Australia who wrote mystery paperbacks about American detectives. His most popular character was police detective Al Wheeler, and the books in that series were a ton of fun.

It was quite a publishing coup when Stark House Books won the right to reprint early Al Wheeler books that were never published in the U.S. The second volume of Stark House’s Carter Brown collection contains a helpful introduction by Rick Ollerman followed by three Al Wheeler books originally published in Australia in 1956:

    “No Harp for My Angel”
    “Booty for a Babe”
    “Eve, It’s Extortion”

The story synopsis said that “No Harp for My Angel” takes place in Florida (home of Paperback Warrior Headquarters), so that was the one I chose to read and review this round.

As advertised, the short novel opens with California police detective Al Wheeler on holiday in Ocean Beach, Florida. Because he’s on vacation and because this is a Carter Brown book, he spends a fair amount of his vacation time trying to get laid. This quest leads Wheeler to hit on a hot chick in a bar whose date is Johnny Lynch, the mysterious new tough guy in Ocean Beach who owns a gambling joint. An altercation ensues putting Wheeler on the wrong side of Lynch’s ire - as well as Zero, Lynch’s right hand man, who looks and acts like an “overgrown gorilla.”

With the central conflict of the paperback firmly established, Wheeler is pressed into service to investigate the disappearances of several young women in Ocean Beach since Lynch and his goons blew into town. Because Wheeler has no legal authority in Florida, he assumes an undercover persona to conduct his investigation.

Thereafter, it’s a pretty standard mystery novel. The sex in 1950s Carter Brown is rather toned down compared to his work in later decades, but the story structure is about the same. His work has always been an easy - but satisfying - read. He wasn’t necessarily a master of the genre, but once he figured out his formula for success, he rode that pony for a long time and sold a lot of books in the process. No harm done there.

As time has gone by, Carter Brown paperbacks have become scarce on used bookstore shelves. As such, the Stark House revival of his work is coming at exactly the right time, and “No Harp For My Angel” is a fine entry-point into this iconic series. Recommended.